Nearly a third of Cambridge University students have been sexually assaulted, while more than a fifth feel unsafe during the evening, a shocking new report has found.
More than three quarters (77%) have experienced sexual harassment, with the majority of incidents taking place in the university or nightclubs. The university's women's society, who conducted the research, is now calling for compulsory consent classes for freshers.
The society has also urged the university to tackle drinking cultures which they say creates an unsafe environment for students, as well as making a zero tolerance policy to sexual harassment promoted in colleges.
"I was pulled into a group of young men in a club (looked like a drinking society from the ties, so members of the university) and surrounded me so I couldn't get out, I was told that if I 'danced well' then I could leave." - Cambridge student
Nearly a quarter of students feel unsafe during the evening, citing poor lighting, drunk people, intruders and being followed home as the reasons.
One student told the researchers: "The walk back from the college library to out of college accommodation. Late at night would terrify me. I walk with a rape alarm clutched in one hand, and if it was before midnight I would talk to my friend on the phone so he would be able to raise the alarm if something happened."
Another added: "If I am visiting another college, of someone I know to have been sexually violent, I am also scared there."
Of those who had experienced sexual harassment, 46% had been groped, pinched or touched in a sexual manner to which they did not agree to, with a further 25% having had their body exposed, ie, their skirt being lifted or flies unzipped, without having to agreed to it.
"'Good pants, bad pants' - being informed I had to show my knickers to the men at the table for them to judge if they were appropriately sexualised." - Cambridge student
One student said: "A male student in my college lifted my top to expose my bra in front of his friends (who laughed) in my college bar. It was packed, but no one stepped forward to help me or tell him to stop. I felt uncomfortable going to the bar for a while after."
Of those students who had experienced sexual assault, 50% did not know the perpetrators, while 45% were social acquaintances. More than a third (35%) of incidents happened in colleges, while half took place in nightclubs,
"One time, in the street, a stranger and his friends drunkenly cornered me and demanded I kiss him or let him kiss me - when I refused he did it forcefully.”- Cambridge student
Alcohol was a large factor in the physical violence, with 75% of the perpetrators drinking before the incident. "A good friend who got very drunk and made some quite personal comments which I reacted badly to by shoving him and which he responded with by punching me and giving me a black eye," one student told the study.
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Lauren Steele, the CUSU women's officer, said the survey was carried out in response to the "general lack of belief" from both students and staff that sexual harassment, assault and rape did not take place in Cambridge.
"We wanted to highlight the blame culture surrounding victims of sexual assault which silences students instead of encouraging them to speak out about their experiences.
"The CUSU Women’s Campaign cannot end violence against Cambridge students alone. The campaign needs the support of the university and individual colleges to break the silence surrounding violence against all students. Every form of violence the survey addresses is serious and hinders student’s the ability of students to learn and get the most out of their experience at Cambridge University."
Key findings from the survey:
- 22% of respondents feel unsafe in the evenings
- 35% of respondents have experienced sexual harassment
- 28.5% have experienced sexual assault
- 7% (142 people) have experienced attempted assault by penetration that was unsuccessful
- 3% (71 people) of respondents have experienced assault by penetration
- 10% have experienced stalking
- 9% have experienced physical violence
- 91% of perpetrators of sexual assault were men
Where and when
- 80% of assault by penetration and stalking to place in college
- 35% of sexual assault happen in colleges, 50% of sexual assault happened at a student night in a night
Alcohol and drugs
- 78% of perpetrators of sexual assault had been drinking
- 98% did not report attempted assault by penetration
- More than 80% across all types of incidents did not report the incident
Impact on students
- 69% experienced a negative impact on their ability to study
- 85% experienced a negative impact on their mental health
- 78% experienced a negative impact on their relationships
The survey only compounds the results of the National Union of Students' Hidden Marks report, which found 68% of students who responded had experienced sexual harassment, with one in seven experiencing serious physical or sexual assault.
A university spokeswoman said: "The level of support available to students at the University of Cambridge is unparalleled in most other universities.
“The University Counselling Service, which includes counsellors as well as mental health advisors, supplements the support available to students from the wider staff base and college staff such as tutors, college nurses and chaplains.”
"The health and wellbeing committee is currently examining the impact of rape and sexual assaults on students in Cambridge. Its members have been meeting with student representatives, and internal and external parties working in this area. They will also take into consideration the findings of the recent survey."